Creating Smiles, Improving Lives

Behind the Photo- “Respite”

Hi there- I’m Ellie Falcao, the photographer on the most recent San Salvador trip. I’ve been inspired to do a series of blog posts called “behind the photo,” in which I hope to convey some of the raw emotion and humanity that I experienced and was witness to during our incredible week.


Almost two weeks later I am still trying to process the trip. I’ll admit, coming home and getting back into the rhythm of my daily life has been challenging. I didn’t experience much culture shock when arriving in San Salvador, but it hit me hard coming home. From the big thoughts of “what is the best way to spend my time and resources to make this world a better place when there are SO MANY needs?!?!” to “am I really going to spend $5 on a coffee at Starbucks when there are people in the world that have to sell their only chicken in order to get bus fare so they can travel to see the brilliant American doctors that have come to town?!” You know, simple questions.


One thing I know for sure is that I have a responsibility to share some of what I experienced. Very few people are lucky enough to get to see what I saw and be privileged enough to become a part of a family’s story like we did. They invited us in, let us see their struggle, their pain, their joy and their immense love for their children. That is universal, and I hope through my photos you will see what I saw- behind every snapshot is a story of love, perseverance, and humanity.




This is a photo of Kevin (read more about his story here!) and Hannah, our fabulous blogger. Like all the patients on surgery day, Kevin had been waiting at the hospital since before 6am for his surgery. Despite his positive attitude, the wait can be brutal for even the most optimistic of patients! Lots of time for the nervousness to build. Darling Hannah could see that Kevin needed a little respite, so she invited him to go for a walk with her around the hospital grounds. Talking about their shared interest in music gave Kevin an opportunity to think about something other than his impending surgery. Little connections like this happened all week. Once you took away the different cultures and languages, we were all just people experiencing this same moment in time together.





The above photo shows two of our rockstar surgeons, Dr. Tuan Truong and Mission Leader Dr. Raymond Harshbarger, in the breakroom between back-to-back surgeries. Activity surrounds them- lunch has just arrived. Do they sit and relax, drink a cup of coffee and make jokes with each other? Yes, sometimes. But more likely than not they are strategizing for their next surgery. In this photo, Dr. Harshbarger begins a sketch on a Subway napkin- outlining the very complex next case. There was something about this scene that I felt compelled to capture. Maybe it was the display of dedication to their task, or the irony that they were planning something so intricate on the back of a napkin. Either way, I was lucky enough to be walking by in that moment!


Below is one of my favorite photos of the trip. The 5th floor post-op area was a long hallway of rooms, and at the end was an emergency exit with a half door that was almost always open on top. This open door provided the most lovely breeze- and beyond it was an incredible view of the valley and the volcanoes off in the distance. It was a one of the only areas in the hospital that was truly peaceful. I came upon Dr. Taylor Shepard taking a break to enjoy the peace- and although I’m sure the “click click click” of my camera interrupted his moment of respite, I’m so glad I stumbled upon this scene. There was no way to fully digest all that we saw each day, but a minute or two to enjoy a beautiful view was enough to help us keep going.



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